Readers of The New York Times in 2011 will need a debit or credit card to access much of the newspaper’s online content. What is most surprising about this change is that it did not come sooner, for instituting an online subscription system will allow the Times to survive financially in the long term.
The Times announced Wednesday that in one year it will introduce a metered structure to its Web site. Visitors will be able to view a certain, limited number of articles per month for free, but will have to pay to read beyond that monthly allotment.
Without a doubt, many students on campus have and will express opposition to the new plan. Some might question why they should pay for information that they can obtain for free elsewhere on the Internet. The answer is that readers of the Times will not, strictly speaking, be paying for information. They will be paying for the assurance that the information they are receiving is accurate and verifiable. This institutional legitimacy is what separates the Times and other reputable publications from someone who blogs about current events from his or her basement.
Of course, some may question the wisdom of this decision; after all, most news outlets do not charge for online articles. It is unlikely, however, that this grace period will last. The Times indicated that its circulation and advertising revenue has declined significantly during the recession. Doubters who believe that the Times will take a major readership hit should consider the success of the online pricing mechanisms employed by The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times – both of which charge for Web content. The payment model will allow the Times not only to get its head above water in the short term, but to thrive for decades to come.
What will become of college-age readers who cannot afford to subscribe to the online publication? Currently, The New York Times Readership Program offers universities the option to purchase the paper in bulk for student use. The Times ought to consider expanding this model from print to the Web. The university, in turn, should examine the possibility of negotiating with the Times to provide free access for students using the university’s Internet network. In the meantime, students can be even more thankful that the Collegiate Readership Program – and free copies of the Times outside the Intercultural Center and at other locations on campus – will return on Feb. 1. “